“She looked me in the eyes, pointed at me, and said, ‘These notebooks need to be waiting for me in my office tomorrow morning.’”
Mica May, founder and CEO of May Designs, took in what she just heard. The stern instructions came to her from Tory Johnson, a regular contributor on ABC’s Good Morning America. She needed samples of May’s notebooks for a feature she was hosting on gift ideas.
At the time, May was a staff-of-one, a scrappy entrepreneur working from her home. Thrilled about this opportunity for increased publicity, she shipped off a few of her classic notebook designs.
But then the show aired.
When millions of viewers saw the May Designs notebooks on that Tuesday morning four years ago, her business exploded. In less than ten hours, more than 33,000 new customers ordered May Designs notebooks.
“I thought I was going to die,” May reflected about that crazy day. “I had no idea how I was going to do it. But I knew the customers were counting on me. I had their money and their trust, and I knew I could not let them down.”
May started recruiting staff, kept rolling out new products, and continued to answer phone calls. Over the next few years, May Designs showed up on The Today Show and inElle, People, Glamour, and“Oprah’s Favorite Things” in O Magazine.
Today, her growing company employs 11 people at their sleek headquarters in downtown Austin, Texas. Last year May Designs grossed $4 million and today is on the brink of expanding their product line from notebooks and stationery into fashion and homewares.
“I feel called by God to be an entrepreneur,” May said.
Waging War (on Ugly Stuff)
For May, the idea of creating just another lifestyle brand is uninspiring. For her company, the vision is nothing less than bringing joy to their customers, staff, and community.
“I want to delight our customers with incredible products they really believe in,” May said, “down to even the envelopes, emails, and packaging.”
May started her company because she was frustrated with the dearth of beauty in the notebook aisle. Her frustration extends beyond bland journals, though. She’s tired of the “throwaway shopping culture” in which consumers buy cheap stuff devoid of any enduring meaning or beauty.
“One of the most powerful sources of cultural fragmentation has grown out of the great successes of the Industrial Revolution,” wrote artist Mako Fujimura in his book Culture Care: Reconnecting Beauty to Common Life. “Modern people began to equate progress with efficiency. Despite valiant and ongoing resistance from many quarters—including industry—success for a large part of our culture is now judged by efficient production and mass consumption.”
Even the word consumer is provocative. Consumers are not investors in the items they own. No, for modern Americans, we just consume what we buy. Buy, (ab)use, trash, repeat. It’s amid this voracious shopping landscape that entrepreneurs like May aim to not just sell trendy products, but actually challenge the way men and women think about what they buy and own.
“Mica’s is a typology of entrepreneur that is underappreciated in our Silicon Valley world,” reflected Dave Blanchard, co-founder of Praxis. May Designs is a fellow in the Praxis business accelerator. “Instead of starting with millions in venture capital and plans to take over the world, she started simply with a product she loved that the market around her asked her to make more of.”